Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Father’s/Parent’s Rights Championed by the Court

Father’s Parent’s Rights Championed by the Court

OK, first off I am NOT a “father rights” attorney. I am a client’s rights attorney. And in my humble opinion any lawyer who sells themselves to you only as a “father’s right’s attorney” is a scam artist. These lawyers prey on unwary fathers who are in need of help and counsel, not snake oil. Anyway, that’s for another discussion.

In a recent appellate case* a trial court took a very bold stance when it awarded a father sole custody of a child who had previously been living with the mother after the parties divorced. It was a bold move because the judge gave sole custody to the father even though he did not even request it and he even suggested that the mother get sole custody. The reason the court took this drastic move was because the mother had gone so far in interfering with the father’s parenting time and in alienating the daughter from the father that the court on its own removed joint parenting and granted sole custody to the father. Again the big part of this case is that the father didn’t even ask for sole custody, he merely agreed with the child’s psychologist that joint parenting was not working. Therefore he suggested that while the court give the mother sole custody, it also give him more parenting time with his daughter to offset the influence of the mother.
However, for this judge more parenting time was not enough. The case was filled with attempts by the mother to do nasty things such as:
  1. The mother tried to get a school counselor to report the father to DCFS without justification;
  2. The mother altered the child’s school projects to delete the father’s involvement and even went so far as to “white out” interests the child listed as sharing with her father;
  3. The mother then asked a teacher to remove the father’s pictures from projects both parents were to be a part of;
  4. The mother refused to list the father as a parent in school records;
  5. The mother threatened to move out of state with the child just so the father would have less time with the child;
  6. The mother consistently tried to alienate the children from the new stepmother;
  7. The mother tried to get Orders of Protections that were never granted once a full hearing was to be held; and
  8. The mother would even take the child to see a movie the night before the father was scheduled to take the child to that movie during his parenting time.
The appellate court agreed with the trial judge and said the court correctly looked at the factors used in determining whether joint parenting should be allowed. One of the big factors in this case are listed in the statute at 750 ILCS 602(a)(8). It states that the court must consider the “willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.” Clearly the mother did not do that and actually worked against facilitating and encouraging a close and continuing relationship between the father and the daughter.

I love this case because it really provides a cautionary tale to anyone – father or mother – that tries to use children as pawns in a never ending battle with a spouse or former spouse. Joint Parenting also can be the greatest of incentives for parents to be involved in their children’s lives. But when it doesn’t work, no words on a page are going to change an alienating parent. Sometimes in a drastic situation, a drastic response (like here) is the best response.
Finally, it also provides a cautionary lesson to anyone who thinks they “have it in the bag” when they go to court. Here the mother probably thought, “What do I have to lose?” – at worse the judge will terminate joint parenting which is what she wanted in the first place. Well, not so – she actually lost everything. Therefore, think twice before you leave you and your children’s lives into the hands of a judge that may not do what EITHER party wants but what the judge wants.

In any case, kudos to the trial judge, Jeanne Marie Reynolds**, who had the guts to make that decision.
*The Case and a link to it:
In re Marriage of Debra N. and Michael S., 2013 Ill App (1st) 122145 (1st Dist 2013)

 **Final note: I don’t know this judge and have never practiced in Cook County but a last warning: Sometimes men think men judges are better for them and women think women judges are better for them. Both are wrong. Everyone is different and if I had to say there is any bias in the sexes, I sometimes find women judges are harder on women. In this case any judge should have made this decision. The problem is that not all of them are this brave.